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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for John 5

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A Healing and a Discourse

A. Jesus heals a man at the pool of Bethesda.

1. (Jhn 5:1-4) The pool of Bethesda.

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water. For an angel went down at a certain time into the pool and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.

a. A feast of the Jews: We don't know what feast this was, but it was probably one of the major three feasts in which attendance was required.

i. The debate centers on if this was Passover, Pentecost, or Purim. If it was a Passover, then we can date four Passovers in Jesus' ministry and we know it lasted about 3½ years.

b. A pool, which is called in Hebrew, Bethesda: This pool has been excavated in the area just north of the temple mount, and found to have five porches, just as John says. It is also right next to a church from the crusader period that has fabulous acoustics.

c. For an angel went down … whoever stepped in first … was made well: Perhaps this hope of healing was real, and God honored a release of faith. Or, it may be that this was merely a hopeful legend; nevertheless, a great multitude of sick people believed it.

i. There are many unusual occasions healing in the Bible:

- The purified pot of stew (2 Kings 4:38-41)
- The healing of Naaman by washing in the Jordan River (2 Kings 5:10-14)
- The healing of the man who touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20-21)
- Healing of those who have the shadow of Peter upon them (Acts 5:14-16)
- The healing of those who have Paul's handkerchiefs upon them (Acts 19:11-12)

ii. God can and does do things in unexpected ways. But something isn't necessarily from God simply because it is unexpected or unusual.

2. (Jhn 5:5-6) Jesus questions a lame man.

Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, "Do you want to be made well?"

a. Do you want to be made well? His question may seem rhetorical, but Jesus knew that not every sick person wants to be healed, and that some are so discouraged that they put away all hope. Jesus is dealing with a man who may have his heart withered as well as his legs. Jesus builds the faith of this man.

i. Do you want to be made well: Jesus asked this same kind question on three other occasions. He asked it when John and James asked, through their mother, to be "top guys" in Jesus' administration (Matthew 20:21, Mark 10:36); when two blind men cried out to be healed (Matthew 20:32, Mark 10:51, Luke 18:41); and when Jesus invited His disciples to come follow Him (John 1:38).

ii. This is an entirely fair question. So much of our petition and intercession before God is hampered because we have so little idea of what we really want.

b. It is reasonable to wonder if this man really wanted to be healed. One commentator points out: "An eastern beggar often loses a good living by being cured of his disease."

i. As bad as our current situation is, at least we are familiar with it. We know it. It won't surprise us. We can be more comfortable in our present misery than taking the steps we need to be free.

ii. For example, there are some women who on the one hand desperately want their husbands to be saved - yet on the other hand, they dread the idea because they know it would bring so many changes into their relationship.

iii. In 1993, it was reported that a small order of Franciscan nuns in Prague decided to subsidize their convent by opening the downstairs of their facility - formerly an underground detention center used by the Communists to imprison and torture their enemies - as a hotel. For $33 a night, you could stay in a former prison cell. The proprietors say they try to achieve a middle ground between comfort and authenticity in the "hotel. " Many people are really looking for just that - a comfortable prison cell.

3. (Jhn 5:7-9) The man replies and Jesus heals him.

The sick man answered Him, "Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; but while I am coming, another steps down before me. " Jesus said to him, "Rise, take up your bed and walk. " And immediately the man was made well, took up his bed, and walked. And that day was the Sabbath.

a. Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool: The man's answer is basically, "Yes, I want to be made well, but I don't see how this can happen."

i. Calvin speaks well of his response: "The sick man does what we nearly all do. He limits God's help to his own ideas and does not dare promise himself more that he conceives in his mind."

ii. J. B. Phillips wrote a famous book about this problem, titled Your God is too Small. For many of us, we create a small God in our heads, a God who is limited by whatever "box" we try to put God into.

b. Rise, take up your bed and walk: In this miracle, Jesus does it all. In this case, He could not say to this man what He said on some other occasions: your faith has made you whole (Matthew 9:22), because Jesus took the initiative. This shows us that the New Testament describes many different ways people may be healed.

i. The elders of the church can anoint someone with oil, pray for them, and they may be healed (James 5:14-16).

ii. God's people can lay hands on each other in prayer, ask God for healing, and people may be healed (Mark 16:17-18).

iii. God may grant someone a gift of healing - either that they are directly healed, or have the power to minister healing to another (1 Corinthians 12:9).

iv. God may grant healing in response to the faith of the person who desires to be healed (Matthew 9:22).

v. God may grant healing in response to the faith of another on behalf of the person who is healed (Mark 2:4-5, Matthew 8:13).

vi. God may heal through medical treatment (1 Timothy 5:23, James 5:14 with Luke 10:34).

vii. But in this case, none of these methods involving human participation are used. Sometimes God just sovereignly heals. He takes the initiative, He does the work.

c. Why did Jesus choose this man to heal? Why did Jesus not heal the others there who were sick or crippled? God's ways in such matters are often past our finding out, but perhaps Jesus used a real man and a real healing to paint a picture for us. From the days of the early church, some Christians saw an allegorical purpose in this account. In the thinking of some Christians:

- The man represents Israel
- The five porches represent the law
- The 38 years represent the time of Israel's wilderness wanderings
- The waters represent baptism

i. In this thinking, the allegory might go like this: "All Israel waited for the Messiah, amidst the law. They were afflicted for thirty-eight years and could not enter the Promised Land. With the waters of baptism nearby, Jesus came and brought salvation to Israel."

ii. In early Christian art, a man emerging from baptism was often shown carrying a bed on his back.

B. The Sabbath controversy.

1. (Jhn 5:10-13) The Jews ignore the miracle and take offense.

The Jews therefore said to him who was cured, "It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed. " He answered them, "He who made me well said to me, 'Take up your bed and walk. '" Then they asked him, "Who is the Man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" But the one who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, a multitude being in that place.

a. The Jews therefore said: Throughout his gospel, John uses the term "the Jews" in the sense of the Jewish leaders, not every Jew in Jerusalem.

b. It is the Sabbath; it is not lawful for you to carry your bed: Carrying a bed (actually a sleeping-mat or a bedroll) was in fact a violation of the rabbis' interpretation of the commandment against doing work or business on the Sabbath. It was not a breaking of God's law of the Sabbath, but the human interpretation of God's law.

i. This devotion to the rabbis' interpretation of the Sabbath law still goes on today. An April, 1992 news item: Tenants let three apartments in an Orthodox neighborhood in Israel burn to the ground while they asked a rabbi whether a telephone call to the fire department on the Sabbath would violate Jewish law. Observant Jews are forbidden to use the phone on the Sabbath, because doing so would break an electrical current, which is considered a form of work. In the half-hour it took the rabbi to decide "yes," the fire spread to two neighboring apartments.

c. Who is the Man who said to you, "Take up your bed and walk"? The Jewish leaders didn't want to know who healed the crippled man. They wanted to know who told him to carry a bedroll on the Sabbath day.

2. (Jhn 5:14-15) Jesus warns the healed man of a greater danger.

Afterward Jesus found him in the temple, and said to him, "See, you have been made well. Sin no more, lest a worse thing come upon you. " The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.

a. Afterward Jesus found him: Jesus found him because He was concerned for his spiritual health (sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you), not just his physical health. Living a life of sin is worse, and will bring a worse result, than being crippled for thirty-eight years.

b. The man departed and told the Jews that it was Jesus: We might deride this man as a notorious tattletale, but his violation of the Sabbath tradition could be punished by excommunication or death.

3. (Jhn 5:16-18) Jesus defends His Sabbath actions.

For this reason the Jews persecuted Jesus, and sought to kill Him, because He had done these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father has been working until now, and I have been working. " Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God.

a. And sought to kill Him: The anger and hatred of the Jews is hard to explain, apart from seeing that it has a real spiritual root. They don't like Jesus, and therefore they don't like God the Father (but also said that God was His Father).

i. The absolute devotion to the traditions of man surrounding the Sabbath can't be understated. For example, Deuteronomy 23:12-14 tells Israel to practice good sanitation when their armies are camped. Ancient rabbis applied the same principle to the city of Jerusalem, which they regarded as "the camp of the Lord. " When this was combined with Sabbath travel restrictions, it resulted in a prohibition against going to the bathroom on the Sabbath.

b. My Father has been working until now, and I have been working: In our terminology, Jesus would say: "My Father works on the Sabbath, and so do I. " By this Jesus makes it clear that He is equal to God the Father, and reminds us that God doesn't take holidays.

i. This answers the objection raised by a hostile (and ignorant) critic of Christianity. I saw this statement written in an anti-Christian tract: Just say "no!" to a god who claims to be all powerful, but then requires a nap after only six days of creating (Genesis 2:2). This objection betrays the lack of understanding on behalf of the writer. The Bible clearly says that God does not need sleep or rest (Psalm 121:3-4, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep). The rest of God on the seventh day was given for man's benefit, not God's, demonstrating a pattern of rest necessary for man's well being.

c. But also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God: This bold claim to deity was not missed by the enemies of Jesus. They knew clearly that when Jesus said that God was His Father in this unique way, He declared Himself equal with God.

i. Augustine wisely said of this passage: "Behold, the Jews understand what the Arians do not understand. " Today, Jehovah's Witnesses are among those that hold the doctrines of the Arians, denying the deity of Jesus.

C. Jesus explains His relationship to the Father.

1. (Jhn 5:19-23) The works of the Son.

Then Jesus answered and said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him."

a. The Son can do nothing of Himself: Jesus, God the Son, does nothing independently. He is fully submitted to the Father's will. But this submission comes by choice, not by coercion or by an inferior nature.

b. The Father loves the Son: The relationship between the First and Second members of the Trinity is not one of master and slave, or not of employer and employee, but of Father and Son, united by love.

c. Even so the Son gives life to whom He will: The Son has the same power as the Father, including the power to raise the dead.

d. But has committed all judgment to the Son: The Son has the same authority as the Father, including the authority to judge all. This is a prerogative of God only, and another demonstration of the deity of Jesus.

e. That all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father: This is a further claim to deity. If the Son were not God, then it would be wrong to honor the Son just as they honor the Father. It also means that if we do not honor the Son, we do not really honor the Father either.

i. "Jesus claims the same right to worship from men that the Father has. " (A. T. Robertson)

ii. There are many groups that pretend to honor God but they dishonor Jesus, who is the perfect revelation of God the Father. In this, they demonstrate that they do not honor God the Father at all.

3. (Jhn 5:24-30) Jesus: power in submission.

"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who sent Me."

a. He who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life: Jesus lifts Himself far about the level of any mere man. Think of it: "Hear My word and have everlasting life. " This is either the babbling of an insane man or the words of God Himself. There is no neutral ground to be found here.

b. Life in Himself: None of us has life inherent in ourselves. Our life is derived from our parents, and the fragile environment around us. Jesus claimed that His life was derived from no one; it is inherent and uncreated. Theologians call this quality of self-existence aseity and recognize that God alone possesses it.

i. As Jesus explains His deity to the Jews in this chapter, it is evident that He did not claim identity with the Father as one person, but asserted His equality to God the Father and His relationship of love with the Father. Jesus and the Father are not the same, but they are equal, just as John 1:1 demonstrates.

ii. In this, He counters both the "Jesus Only" doctrine which confuses the Father and the Son (anciently known as Sabellianism, and held today by groups like Oneness Pentecostals). He also counters the "Jesus is not God" doctrine (anciently known as Arianism, and held today by groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses).

c. Those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation: What a chilling thought! Even as those who embrace Jesus will need resurrection bodies to enjoy the glories of heaven, so those who reject Him will need resurrection bodies to endure the terrors of Hell.

d. My judgment is righteous: Jesus is qualified as a completely righteous judge, because His power is in submission: I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge.

D. The three-fold witness to who Jesus is.

1. (Jhn 5:31-32) Self-testimony was not reliable in a court of law; but Jesus has far more than His own testimony regarding who He is.

"If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true. There is another who bears witness of Me, and I know that the witness which He witnesses of Me is true."

a. If I bear witness of Myself, My witness is not true: This principle is established by Deuteronomy 19:15, which says by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. Jesus has just told the Jews that He is God, but His testimony alone is not enough.

b. There is another who bears witness of Me: In the following passage, Jesus calls forth three absolutely credible witnesses who will testify that He is equal to the Father. But these enemies of Jesus will reject these witnesses and their testimony.

2. (Jhn 5:33-35) The witness of John the Baptist.

"You have sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth. Yet I do not receive testimony from man, but I say these things that you may be saved. He was the burning and shining lamp, and you were willing for a time to rejoice in his light."

a. He was the bright and shining lamp: John was a true witness of Jesus, but the religious leaders did not receive the testimony of John the Baptist regarding the identity of Jesus.

3. (Jhn 5:36) The witness of the works of Jesus.

"But I have a greater witness than John's; for the works which the Father has given Me to finish; the very works that I do; bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me."

a. A greater witness than John's … the very works that I do: Every aspect of the works of Jesus testified to the deity of Jesus.

b. The very works that I do; bear witness of Me: The majority of the miraculous works of Jesus were simple acts of compassion and mercy, done for simple, needy people. In this, these works … bear witness to the heart of God. The Jews looked for a miraculous Messiah, but they did not look for One who would express His miraculous power in simple acts of compassion and mercy. They wanted a Messiah to use miraculous power to bring political deliverance to Israel.

i. Because Jesus' miraculous works didn't fit in with what they thought the Messiah would do, they didn't receive this witness of Jesus' works.

4. (Jhn 5:37-38) The witness of the Father.

"And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe."

a. The Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me: When did God the Father testify to Jesus? In virtually every work and word of Jesus, God the Father testified to Jesus status as the Son of God. But specifically, the Father testified of the Son in Old Testament prophecy, and at the baptism of Jesus (Luke 3:22).

b. But you do not have His word abiding in you: They will not receive the testimony of the Father, because they do not have His word abiding in them. They can't hear God the Father audibly, or see Him, but they have His word. They are guilty because they do not abide in the word that God gave them.

5. (Jhn 5:39) They reject the testimony of the Father through the Scriptures.

"You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me."

a. You search the Scriptures: It is the Scriptures (here used in the sense of the Old Testament) which speak of Jesus. Significantly, they searched the Scriptures, but they did not have His word abiding in them. We can know the Bible without having His word live in us.

6. (Jhn 5:40-44) The reason for their unbelief.

"But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. I do not receive honor from men. But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God?"

a. But you are not willing to come to Me: They are not willing, and they are not willing because they don't have God's love. They are concerned with man's honor, not the honor that comes from God (do not seek the honor that comes from the only God).

b. That you do not have the love of God in you: We see that these reasons essentially have to do with the heart, not with the mind. People like this may hide behind intellectual excuses, but the bottom line is that they have a heart problem with Jesus, not a head problem.

c. If another comes in his own name, him you will receive: Here, Jesus prophesies the coming day when the Jewish people will, for a time, embrace the Antichrist who comes in his own name. Anytime a person rejects Jesus, it leaves them open to tremendous deception.

7. (Jhn 5:45-47) They reject the testimony of the Father through Moses.

"Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you; Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?"

a. If you believed Moses, you would believe Me: These religious leaders rejected Jesus because they rejected God's word through Moses. Moses accuses them, because Moses wrote about Jesus and they won't receive the testimony of Moses.

b. For he wrote about Me: Where did Moses write about Jesus? In many pages, but here are a few:

i. The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear. (Deuteronomy 18:15)

ii. Then the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live. " So Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:8-9)

iii. Jesus was typified in the rock that gave Israel water in the wilderness (Numbers 20:8-12 and 1 Corinthians 10:4).

iv. The ministry of Jesus was shown in almost every aspect of the seven different kinds of offering that God commanded Israel to bring (Leviticus 1-7).

v. Jesus and His ministry were shown in the Tabernacle and its service. One place where the New Testament makes this connection is with the word propitiation in Romans 3:25, which speaks of the mercy seat on the Ark of the Covenant.

vi. The law of the bondservant speaks of Jesus (Exodus 21:5-6 and Psalm 40:6-8).

vii. No wonder Jesus could say Behold, I come; in the scroll of the Book it is written of Me (Psalm 40:7). He could teach a Bible study where beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:27)

© 2000 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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